First Steps for First Gens: Finding Your Way to Law School (Even When the Path is Foggy)

By the time I left the arts education organization I founded in the early 2010s, I had spent the better part of a decade incorporating a business, writing and negotiating service contracts, and working with creative intellectual property. I enjoyed the nitty-gritty, down-to-details aspect of the law-related work I was doing, and I imagined I’d like to explore the other side of it—as an attorney. I decided to go to law school. On paper, the transition made sense. But once I made my decision, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

When I called my mother to tell her I was pursuing law school, she said, “Oh, good. I’m glad you have a plan.”

I did not feel like I had a plan.

Reading online forums, I had barely scratched the surface of understanding what it meant to be a new law student: according to The Internet, law students typically have the benefit of generations of lawyers laying a well-lit path forward. I didn’t have that. And navigating the experience as a first generation law student can feel like fumbling through a fog. Isolating, confusing, and overwhelming. Whoops, didn’t see that tree branch there. Ope, twisted my ankle. Oh, no—what was that sound? Better keep moving.

But there’s good news: As I stumble along my path, I’m learning two important lessons that may help you as you walk yours:

  1. Even though it feels like as first gens we’re starting out behind others, we’re not. Not really. Preparedness is a spectrum, and our place on it is determined by so much more than what our grandfather did for a living. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses going in. The fifth-generation law student might not have your grit or study habits or intuition. There are a million data points that establish your place on that spectrum. Don’t count yourself out before you even start just because you’re not the third esquire in your family.
  2. Stumbling along on a foggy, unpaved path can feel demoralizing, but there are methods that can make your way clearer and brighter.

I can’t promise the fog ever lifts completely. I’m a 0L, just starting law school this fall, so I’m only a short way into my journey. But I can tell you that even as I fumble along now, there have already been folks who point out tree branches and gopher holes in front of me, shout encouragement from somewhere in the darkness, and lend a small flashlight.

And now I can share a bit of that light with you, too.

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